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The Times

First Lady Michelle Obama shows even she has a gift for the gaffe

Michelle Obama and Sarah Brown meet at the White Hous

Unflattering: the White House released only one photograph of Michelle Obama and Sarah Brown together

It was all going so well. The dresses, the brains, the Vogue cover shoot – everything so far about Michelle Obama has left us wide-mouthed in admiration. It seemed there was no end to her fabulousness. Then Mr and Mrs Brown came to stay.

Like all good guests, Sarah Brown arrived bearing gifts for the children, Malia and Sasha. And they were really nice presents. A bit of thought had clearly gone into choosing them: Top Shop dresses (with matching necklaces) and a selection of books by British authors. Lovely.

Mrs Brown may have two boys but she certainly knows the way to a little girl’s heart. These were gifts chosen in the true spirit of present-giving: to please the recipient, not the giver.

In return Mrs Obama gave the Brown children, Fraser and John, two toy models of Marine One, the Presidential helicopter. Fair enough on the helicopter part, always a popular choice with small boys; but Marine One? It’s not as though anyone needs reminding that Barack Obama is President or that he has his own helicopter. Short of giving the boys Action Man models of her own husband smiting the evil forces of neoconservatism, Mrs Obama’s gesture could not have been more solipsistic or more inherently dismissive of Mrs Brown.

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Not only did she demonstrate that she spent approximately three seconds contemplating the needs of the Brown boys (having an aide pop to the White House gift shop for a piece of merchandising does not imply a great deal of thought), she appeared to show a most uncharacteristic lapse of judgment.

It might have been possible to overlook the incident were it not for the official photograph.

The White House released one picture of the two women and it does not appear to have been selected with any kind of special relationship in mind. There is a menacing bunch of pink peonies in the foreground and the angle is most unflattering to Mrs Brown, who has the air of a woman very much in need of a stiff drink.

Whether deliberate or not, the whole thing feels like a snub.

As for Fraser and John, their parents’ trip to America will always be remembered as the time that “Mum and Dad went to see the President, and all we got was this lousy plastic helicopter”.

http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/us_and_americas/article5848073.ece